More than 450 attendees from 60 countries at ISSA 2017 Conference in Ghent

ISSA’s 2017 international conference “Local Responses, Global Advances: Towards Competent Early Childhood Systems”, attracted over 450 participants from 60 countries from around the world (see the stats here). Visitors gathered to discuss how the speed of change in today’s world affects early childhood development. It requires substantial shifts in the ways early childhood systems are designed, equipped, governed, financed and supported. It is time to embrace a systemic approach to address the critical problems that hinder children’s and families’ rights, and to learn from local responsive approaches to build competent early childhood systems.

The conference united the knowledge and practice of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, donors and NGOs from around the world to explore themes through discussions and interactive sessions, while participants shared their insights and solutions.


Three, free pre-conference workshops kicked-off a week of knowledge sharing in Ghent. These workshops focused on integrated services in the early years, developing sustainability through fundraising and intervention packages to support nurturing care. The last workshop, was offered in partnership with WHO, UNICEF and Ankara University and provided an orientation on and general information about two intervention packages to support nurturing care: Care for Child Development (CCD) and the International Guide for Monitoring Child Development (GMCD).

The first keynote speaker was Jan Peeters, Director of VBJK, Centre for Innovation in the Early Years at Ghent University, Belgium. In many ways, as the Director of the Ghent-based research center, Dr Peeters is the embodiment of the conference theme. His organization cooperates locally to help create competent early childhood systems. In his keynote address, he told stories about actors of change from around the globe with whom he worked – his pedagogical heroes. He described the competent system that motivates practitioners to provide high quality ECEC.

Nora Milotay, Policy Analyst at the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), closed the conference with her very inspiring keynote speech. Ms. Milotay works on issues of European social policy at the Economic Policies Unit. The keynote address looked into the current theory and practice of governing early childhood systems across the EU and the particular role the EU can play in this. It presented the main tools available in the EU, their current use, the remaining challenges and ways in which they might be addressed in the future. Her focus on disruptive innovation sparked a great deal of interest among participants.

ISSA was proud to have Michel Vandenbroeck as moderator of the panel discussion ”Local Responses to Global Challenges: the Role of Local Policies in Early Childhood Development”. Prof. Vandenbroeck is Head of the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium. ISSA Conference 2017 hosts also welcomed Joan Lombardi, Senior Advisor at the Bernard van Leer Foundation, Deepa Grover, Regional Advisor on early childhood development for the UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, and Chris Cuthbert, Director of Development for the Big Lottery Fund’s A Better Start program in the UK. Deputy Mayors from Ghent/Belgium and Leiden/The Netherlands, Elke Decruynaere and Roos van Gelderen respectively, joined this inspiring panel.

Liana Ghent, Executive Director of ISSA shared: “For the first time ISSA has joint forces with a municipality as well as an ISSA member organization to co-host the 2017 conference. The City of Ghent has long been at the vanguard of early childhood development services and in conjunction with VBJK, and conference partners Artevelde University College and Ghent University, we were pleased to welcome such a variety of stakeholders concerned with the care and education of young children.” The Deputy Mayor of Ghent responsible for education and childcare, Elke Decruynaere, states that this conference was a great opportunity to learn from each other and reflect on early childhood education.